"Another failed attempt," Talberth complained, shaking his head in disgust.
"No!" Telenstil exclaimed with surprising vehemence. "I expected something of the sort. Again we return unscathed and this last attempt was just a prelude." He looked about at the gathered company. "Have you all rested enough from this night's excitement?"
"I don't believe it," said Talberth.
"You mean for us to go out again?" asked Gytha. She smiled, "Good, good, the iron is hot. Let us strike!"
"Yes, they are running about looking for us," said the old ranger. "If we can avoid their search parties then the steading itself should be undermanned."
"Under-gianted you mean," Harold said brightly, but his attempt at humor earned him only some sour looks. "But how are we going to get past these patrols?"
"With master Ivo's help and mine, if need be, and with the guidance of our good ranger, Harald," said Telenstil.
"Oh, not more magic spells!" moaned the halfling Harold. "This big clod nearly squashed me flat with those invisible size-twelves of his."
"That is a problem with invisibility," master Ivo said seriously. "I have never been able to teach the spell the difference between friend and foe, but it would certainly be a useful addition to its effects. Do not worry. I have other spells at my command. We will arrive at the steading unseen."
* * *
The night was lit by a river of fire. Nosnra had summoned forth the most trustworthy of his orcish slaves and each now carried a burning torch. Hundreds of orcs marched down the southern slope of the giant's hill. Between them went the most skilled of the giant scouts searching for each track and print left behind by their puny attackers. At the bottom of the hill, a narrow valley between their own and the southerly lower hills, Nosnra waited with the steading's wolf pack, a small band of his clansmen and his witan Engenulf.
"What foul enchantment is this?" Nosnra asked.
"It's the work of dwarves," Engenulf explained. "The wizened, hillish kind that call themselves gnomes."
"I've heard their name before," said Nosnra with a nod of his head.
"This is not real, but it fools the mind. It is done with great power. The effort to dispel it would be just as great or greater." Engenulf declared.
"The trail leads through the stream we need to pass, and this flood seems real enough to me," Nosnra said. "You must dispel it and quick. They flee, and they've cost us three more dead."
"It cannot go far either upstream or down. The stream is not flooding, we can bypass this and circle around," answered Engenulf.
"Alright. Gosfrith!" Nosnra yelled and the wolf master came running.
"My Thegn," Gosfrith spoke up.
"Take the pack north but have someone take six of the wolves south. Engenulf says that the stream will be clear to the south and the north. We will circle round."
Gosfrith eyed the crashing water, but nodded his head and did as he was told.
* * *
"We will circle round the hill," Telenstil explained. "And we will come from the north where they have no watchtower set." \
"Good," said Talberth. "I do not like leaving here when they are searching for us. What if they spot our trail?"
"I have an idea. An item which was created as an amusement for an emperor's child, ages past. It will come in very handy for us now," Telenstil took a small chest from his pack and with some reverence opened it for all to see. Inside, a ball of milky white, like some monstrous pearl, rested upon a cloth of red silk. He took the ball from its wooden case and as he did it appeared to grow so that what had been an apple's size took two hands to hold. He bent and breathed a word upon its surface, "Xsurjere!" he said and the ball began to glow. Telenstil pulled his hands away, and the ball, glowing white, remained floating in the air. "Now, reach over and put your hand on the orb. Harald, how about you?"
"I've had as much magic as I can stand for one night," the ranger said and backed away.
Gytha laughed, "Why Harald, you are as timid as a mouse. I would never have imagined."
Harald blushed but said nothing and made no sign that he would heed Telenstil's request.
"Here," Gytha said. "I'll do it," she reached out and put her hand to the glowing ball. "It tingles!" she laughed. Gytha did not notice as her feet slowly rose from the ground till she stood only upon the air.
"Harald, take Gytha's hand." said Telenstil. The ranger just shook his head.
"Oh you big baby," said the halfling. He reached up and grabbed the cleric's hand.
"Hey!" he cried, as his feet left the ground. "I'm flying!"
"A remarkable toy," Talberth said. "But what use can we make of it?"
"Talberth," Telenstil chided his former apprentice. "Why I am surprised that you do not see with this toy, and this," he held up his hand, a silver ring with a small white pearl was on one long finger. "We will leave no trail. In fact our feet need not touch the ground at all."
Outside the cave the nine who'd come to challenge Nosnra's might stood round the small glowing ball. Gytha placed her hand on one side, Henri on the other. Each member of the company held hands in two rows of four with Telenstil at the center, each floating row in line with his outstretched arms.
"Xsurjere-sublem!" Telenstil said. The company began to rise, quick but sure. "Do not let go!" he warned. "Kon-istare!" Telenstil stopped them far above the ground. "Vol-atel!" he cried and swiftly they took wing and sailed like a strange flock of geese, a great V across the night sky.
They swung out to the east and then turned north passing dark wooded hills below. The halfling, Harold, floated on the elven wizard's left. He held tight to the ranger's hand and let out loud "Whoop's!" and cries of glee as they flew through the air. Below, and further to his left, he saw a wavering line of fire, and then the steading, a wooden hall of monstrous size, as if a small town had been roofed over and enclosed with a massive wall of giant trees. They quickly passed it by, then turned, a slow wide arc that brought them round to face the steadings northern side.
The roof came up and landed on their feet. Harold gave a laugh, happy to be safe with something solid beneath his legs once more. "Shhh!" hissed the ranger with a finger to his lips. The halfling grinned and stuck out his tongue but made sure no other sounds escaped his mouth.
Telenstil said, "Kon-fisere," and the glowing ball went out and leaf-like drifted down. At his touch it shrank, dwindled to a pearl the twin of that set upon his ring. He scooped it up and dropped it in a small silk bag and placed it in his pouch. With a soundless gesture he opened wide his arms then placed a hand before his mouth.
The cleric Gytha gave a nod, understanding what he meant. "Let the Saint's power be felt," she quietly prayed. "Grace me with your power. Let a holy silence fall upon this place," a beatific glow shown from Gytha's eyes. She clapped both hands together, but no sound rang out. She laughed, always happy when the Saint heard her prayers and granted her bequests.